Dear New Shrink,
My boyfriend and I are extremely close. We have been together for a year, and since the beginning, he has always been emotionally available through his actions, how he treats me, etc. However, I can never get him to express his feelings. He talks about fear of attachment, and says he never wants to be dependent on someone, or attached, and although he wants to be close, he doesn’t want to get to that “unhealthy closeness.” However, I wonder if he is somewhat emotionally blocked from me. He also has issues saying, “I love you.” He doesn’t know why, but he says although he loves people, he feels weird saying it. I wonder what that is about. Just looking for some input, advice on how to handle the relationship, situation, etc. I am very happy with him, so it is not much of a problem, so do I just leave it alone and ignore it since actions are more important than words? Or will it affect me later down the line?
Dear Questioning Myself,
Thank you for having the courage to write in. There is much to consider here; several questions actually.
First off, you say that you are “extremely close.” You know this through your boyfriend’s actions. I am assuming you are mutually exclusive for the better part of this year?
I will also assume that you are sexually intimate, albeit not necessarily so but most folks tend to be these days. If you are, a question that I have for you is what is it like when you make love? Can you feel him caring about, loving you?
If so, that, along with a year of committed relations that has all been good so far, is a very positive sign.
You make an interesting comment about getting him to express his feelings. What feelings are you talking about, what do you mean? If you feel him caring about you and you know his basic preferences for things, maybe you should stop trying. Actually, men don’t tend to express their feelings so easily and the more you try to get him to open up and express himself, the more likely he is to back off. You could actually be creating the emotional block you fear.
Do you worry that he is angry with you and won’t tell you? That is definitely a reason to be concerned but short of that, don’t try to change him. It will back fire.
You do bring up some interesting issues regarding attachment or maybe better said, his fear of being dependent on someone. But you say you are extremely close, so isn’t that an attachment?
However, having great difficulty with saying I love you and being afraid of dependency could be an issue down the road.
Men always have to negotiate their masculinity with intimacy to a woman. This basically starts when they head off for school and have to change their relationship with their mothers. If they don’t, they are ostracized, made fun of, called mama’s boys, sissies etc. They need to be little men in order to fit in. Depending on how it goes with mom during this time, the experience of this transition follows them for better or worse, into their young and adult lives when it comes to intimacy with women. Unfortunately, fears of being controlled by women are common.
Your situation sounds like your boyfriend is already close to you but if he perceives you as trying to get him to be closer or more dependent on you, he may be emotionally blocked with you to some degree. This could be a relationship dynamic as I indicated above.
Having said that, if he has a deep issue with not ever wanting to be dependent on someone, he will have difficulty forming a long-term, meaningful attachment unless he gets some help.
Saying I love you has a special meaning to him, to all of us actually. Those words are casual for some, meaningful for others and also, overwhelming for some people. If it means he thinks he has to marry you and he is not ready, that may be the reason he holds back. It may be that is was said all too often in his environment growing up and it felt either meaningless and/or manipulative to him.
All in all, it sounds like you are happy and things have gone well for a year. I think you should step back and ask yourself what it is that you are trying to get out of him and how much does it mean to you. Also, ask yourself if you might be part of your perceived problem.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage & family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com and please send your inquires and replies to firstname.lastname@example.org
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